Kalatharpura / Pot country / Tawnte

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Some time back, I saw on MRTV-4, a weekly Industrial Talk show, which that time covered the Sint စဥ့္ / စင့္ / glaze industry of Myanmar. It was mentioned that the Tawnte region that is still producing pots both glazed and unglazed had been doing it since ancient times and that the region was called Kalatharpura / Pot country in a 7th century AD SriKsetra inscription.

There are collections of broken Sint စဥ့္ / စင့္ / glaze pots in Tawnte and over a thousand ancient kiln sites have been identified in Tawnte alone with innumerable ancient kiln sites in the AyeYarWaddy delta too. Inscriptions are present in some pieces. The earliest of them have been proved to be Pyu inscriptions that date to the 7th century AD on paleographic evidence.

The History of Ceramic Pottery
in Myanmar (Burma)


Extracted by the roadtomandalay.com Webmaster from “Burmese Ceramics” by
Sumarah Adhyatman and published by The Ceramic Society of Indonesia, 1985

Nothing has ever been published on Burmese ceramics although the name Martaban, an ancient port in Southern Myanmar has lent itself to a group of large dark glazed earthenware and stoneware jars. A revised edition of the book TEMIPAYAN MARTAVANS concerning martaban jars found in Indonesia which was published in August 1984 by the Ceramic Society of Indonesia contains pictures and references to present production of Burmese jars in Upper Burma.

Several centuries before Christ the Mons – who probably came from Burma (?? ~ Webmaster)- settled down on the estuaries between the Salween and Sittaung rivers. Their settlement area is known as Suvannabhumi or the Golden Land2 from descriptions in Chinese and Indian text. A coastal town of Suvannabhumi is Kalasapura or ‘City of Pots’ mentioned in the Indian Kathasaritsagara of the 11th century.

About 2000 years ago the Pyu people, a Tibeto-Burman tribe settled in Upper Burma, their first capital established in Sri Ksetra near present day Prome. A fragmentary Sanskrit inscription recently found at Sri Ksetra refers to Kalasapura four times in a manner inferring that it was conquered or entered into a special relationship with the Pyus around the end of the 7th century. To be of economic or strategic use to the Pyus, Kalasapura would have been placed either near the mouth of the Salween river in the Martaban-Moulmein area, or near the mouth of the Irrawaddy3.

In the 14th century Martaban was already a busy harbour. It was mentioned by Ibnu Batuta an Arab traveller in 1350 in connection with large jars “… Martabans or huge jars, filled with pepper, citron and mango, all prepared with salt, as for a sea voyage”.

The demand of the Arab, Indian and later the European traders for large jars in which to store liquid and foodstuffs was met by the supply at Martaban, most probably by the supply of local jars. Historical sources mostly refer to the fact that the jars were produced locally8. So the generic name of martavan or martaban jars were indeed first applied to the jars produced and used at the Martaban site. It was later used for all kinds of large earthenware and stone-ware jars from different origins. For instance it is reported that presently Upper India also produce large black jars which they call ‘Martaban”9. The import of Chinese ceramics consisted of porcelain especially celadon dishes which are called “gori”10. At present celadon wares are still called “martabani” in the Middle East.

There has been evidence of use of glaze pots in the Arabian peninsula since old age and their source was first thought to be from Thailand. Not long ago, it has been proved that their origin was from Tawnte region.I read articles about the confirmation of Myanmar as the major source of 15th and 16th century green ware dishes at Julfar one of the largest ports in the Arabian Gulf from the 14th to 16th centuries.

Myanmar ceramic production and trade during the Middle Ages

By Dr Sein Tu


THESE are exciting times in the scientific study of Southeast Asian ceramic history.

The scholarly world of Southeast Asian ceramic research is in a state of intellectual ferment because until recently, Myanmar was regarded as having no tradition of ceramic production.

Kiln excavations in Southeast Asia had previously been conducted only in Thailand, with the result that all ceramic finds of Southeast Asian origin were considered to be Thai. This was the consensus of scientific opinion, with the Myanmar tradition of ceramic production remaining unacknowledged and Myanmar contributions to ceramic ware of Southeast Asia being ignored.

Then, in 1984, ceramic green and white ware of a type never before encountered was found in a burial mound in Tak, a Thai town near the Myanmar border.

At first these were claimed to be products of the archaeological excavations at ancient kiln sites at Kalong in northeastern Thailand, but a number of international ceramic experts thought it more likely that they came from Myanmar.

Then, in a series of crucial experiments reported in the early 1990s, Japanese ceramic scientists K.Yamasaki, G.Hasebe, Y.Emoto and M.Murozumi compared the lead isotope ratios of the Tak burial mound samples with those of glazed tiles from Shwe-gu-gyee Pagoda in Bago and the Apeyadanar Pagoda in Bagan and lead samples from the Baw Hsaing lead mine in Myanmar and the Mae-hon-hsan lead mine in Thailand.

The results showed that the lead isotope ratio of the Tak samples matched those found in the lead from Baw Hsaing mine and the glazed tiles from the Bago and Bagan pagodas, but not with the lead samples from the Thai lead mine.

Furthermore, Myanmar samples showed the effects of the addition of tin to the lead flux during the production process to impart a blanching or whitening effect to the glaze. This is not found in Thai, Vietnamese or any other Southeast Asian ceramic ware. The Tak green and white ware, alone among all other Thai samples, showed the effects of tin glaze technology. This settled the question of the provenance of the Tak samples.

The discovery that Myanmar ceramic ware was based on tin glaze technology drew the attention of international scholars who were quick to point out that any future history of Southeast Asian ceramics would be incomplete without a consideration of Myanmar’s contribution, whilst others suggested that a revision of Southeast Asia ceramic history was already in order.

One related problem was whether there was any archaeological evidence of past Myanmar ceramic production extensive enough to be worthy of note in the history of Southeast Asian ceramics.

In a search for archaeological evidence of ancient kilns in Myanmar, Australian expert Don Hein teamed up with Myanmar ceramic scholars Dr Thaw Kaung and Dr Myo Thant Tyn to excavate the Lagumbyee site near Bago in 1990, and discovered more than 100 cross-draught kilns and production paraphernalia similar to those found in Thailand.

Innumerable ancient kiln sites have been identified since, including more than a thousand at Twante, in the Ayeyarwaddy delta about 40 miles west of Yangon.

A new chapter was written in the history of Myanmar ceramics by a team of Japanese archaeologists led by Tatsuo Sasaki and Hanae Sasaki of Kanazawa University, working from 1988 to 1994 at the Julfar and Hulaylah sites in the United Arab Emirates. Prof. Sasaki reported their findings to the Myanmar Academy of Arts and Science on November 12 this year in a seminar paper titled Trade to the Indian Ocean in the 15-16th centuries from Myanmar : The Excavation of Myanmar Green Ceramic Ware in the Arabian Peninsula.

Julfar and Hulaylah are at the lower end of the Persian Gulf in Ras al Khamia.
Julfar was one of the largest ports in the Arabian Gulf from the 14th to 16th centuries. The archaeological team identified seven layers – the uppermost layer, Level 1, yielded ceramics from the middle of the 15th century and later, whilst the lowermost habitation layer, Level 7, dated to the middle of the 14th century.

The lower levels yielded many sherds of Chinese green ware and white porcelain, while Myanmar and Thai wares were found only in the upper layers. On the other hand Myanmar sherds formed the largest proportion of the green wares found in the 15th and 16th century levels at Julfar.

Generally speaking, Myanmar green ware dishes are heavy and have a low, broad foot ring. Twante bowls have a high foot, the inside of which is not glazed, and is decorated only by simple curved lines. The colour of the glaze is a fairly uniform pale green.

In the shape of the lip and foot, the colour of the glazes, and the curved decorations, the unidentified sherds from Julfar and Hulaylah were found to be similar to Myanmar ceramic ware from the Twante kiln site. The bowls of this type found in Julfar and Hulaylah had also been made using the same production techniques as the Myanmar Twante ware, judging by marks left on the underside of the base during the firing process.

From the archaeological evidence uncovered in the Middle East it has become clear that Myanmar ceramics were exported to many countries during the 15th century. The same type of green ware has been found, not only in the UAE, but also on the coasts of Iran, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar.
Indeed, the wheel appears to have come full circle. Myanmar, for a long time relegated to a backwater in Southeast Asian ceramic history because of a dearth of archaeological evidence of ceramic production, has been proved to have had a viable ceramic industry.

The evidence also shows that the industry was so extensive that trade relations were established with many lands during the 15th and 16th centuries for the export of Myanmar green ware in such volumes as to form most of the green ware sherds found at the 15th and 16th century levels at the Julfar and Hulaylah excavations in the Persian Gulf.

Myanmar’s long and documented history of making big glazed jars
By Dr Sein Tu


THE reluctance of many international academics to acknowledge the long tradition of ceramics in Myanmar is nowhere more apparent than in their treatment of glazed earthenware jars associated with the seaport of Martaban or Mottama on the Gulf of Martaban. This is a surprising omission, given that historical references have referred to the production and trade in Martaban glazed ceramic jars for hundreds of years. Many of these references have been noted by Dr Myo Thant Tyn, the chairman of the Myanmar Ceramic Society, in his Tradition of Myanmar Glazed Ceramics and its Historical Status in Southeast Asia, published by the Society in 2000. The references have been gleaned from a variety of sources, which for reasons of space, cannot all be acknowledged. Among the earliest references cited by Dr Myo Thant Tyn are those of two Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, I-tsing and Huien Thsang (or Yuan Chwang) who visited the Pyu kingdom (or Sri Ksestra or possibly Old Bagan or Tampavati) and recorded that the inhabitants bartered earthenware jars as well as glazed ware. Their observations were included in the Man-shu, a chronicle published during the Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E.). The famous Islamic traveller, Ibn Batuta, who visited Lower Myanmar in 1350 C.E. wrote: “The Princess made me a present consisting of … four huge Martaban jars filled with pepper, citron and mango, all prepared with salt, as for a sea-voyage.”  However, the production in Myanmar of Martaban jars was unequivocally testified to by a Portuguese visitor to Myanmar, Duarte Barbosa, who recorded in 1516 that; “In this town of Martaban are made very large and beautiful porcelain vases and some of glazed earthenware of a black colour which are highly valued among the Moores, and they export them as merchandise.” After this, similar observations came thick and fast.  Francois Pyrard de Laval reported seeing in 1610 “the most beautiful, best glazed and made jars I have seen anywhere. There are some that hold a pipe or more. They are made in the Kingdom of Marbatan, from where they are brought and from where they take their name throughout India.” One pipe equalled two hogsheads, or about 105 gallons (nearly 400 litres). Preserved in the Public Record Office of London is a memorandum dated 1664 which states: “The Trade of India as ‘tis now managed by the English Company of Merchants trading in some parts of it is very invalid in comparison of what is now drove by our neighbour nation the Dutch… many sorts of clothing are sent into Pegu, a port in the Bay (Bangala) which returns rubies and readie money, the coin or current money of the place, allsoe Martananas Jarres.Hamilton reported in 1727 that; “Martavan was one of the most flourishing Towns for trade in the East… they make earthen Ware still, and glaze them with Lead-oar. I have seen some Jars made there would contain two Hogsheads of Liquor.”  Dr Than Tun relates how King Alaungpaya (1752-1760), after his conquest of Bago (Pegu), took 5000 prisoners of war back to Upper Myanmar. The potters among them were permitted by royal decree to make glazed earthenware at Kyaukmyaung in Shwebo District. Kyaukmyaung remains a thriving centre for making Martaban jars. Hunter in his Account of Pegu in 1785 adds an amusing footnote to the history of Martaban jars. He wrote; “a foreigner may marry one of the natives, on which occasion he pays a stipulated sum to her parents; but if he leaves the country, he is not permitted to carry his wife along with him. So strict is the law in this particular, and so impossible it is to obtain a dispensation from it, that some men, who have had a great affection for their wives, have been obliged, on their departure, to carry them away in secret in (Martavan) jars which were supposed to be filled with water.” Australian scholar Dr Pamela Guttman referred in 1978 to a long tradition of Myanmar glazed ceramics based on the history of Martaban jars.  In a paper presented that year at a symposium in Hong Kong, Dr Guttman surveyed the glazed ceramic tradition of Myanmar from the 7th century to the 18th century and disproved the view that Myanmar had no history of ceramic manufacture or trade.  British academic John Guy also stated in his Ceramic Traditions of South-East Asia (Oxford University Press, 1989) that while Myanmar was not traditionally associated with glazed ceramic production “there is evidence, both archaeological and textual, of a tradition existing in Burma (Myanmar) from at least the ninth century.” In 1977, an American scholar, Roxanna Brown, noted that; “until very recently Burma (Myanmar) was thought to be quite devoid of old glazed ceramics even though there was physical evidence of modern manufacture, literary evidence of ancient production, and a long tradition in Asia calling large storage jars ‘martabans’. (Brown, R, 1977, The Ceramics of South-East Asia – Their Dating and Identification. Oxford University Press). Excavations in 1984 and 1985 along the Myanmar-Thai border resulted in the discovery of Green and White ceramic ware which was proved by chemical analysis to be of Myanmar origin. This finally aroused the interest of an increasing number of international specialists to the possibilities of further revelations of Myanmar contributions to the history of Southeast Asian ceramics.


Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: